‘The Legal Deposition’
to Find Your Own Truth
by Stratton Horres, J.D.
As a trial attorney, I had been extensively trained in the art of examining and interrogating witnesses in law school and during my early years as an associate in a major Dallas, Texas law firm. Twenty years of tough as nails legal warfare in the trenches has honed these skills to a fine edge. In fact, my aggressive legal persona early in my career had earned me the coveted nickname of the "baby-faced assassin," from my mentor.
Many of you are perhaps familiar with the legal deposition through books, television shows or movies. The oral deposition is the most the most valuable tool in a trial attorney’s arsenal. We use depositions to ferret out the truth in the investigation phase of a le gal case appropriately called "discovery" and use the deposition at the trial as evidence or to impeach a witness if he/she tries to change testimony. In a deposition, witnesses are placed under an oath to tell the truth and questioned about the facts of a case by skilled attorneys. It is a very formal legal proceeding and a certified court reporter records every word said during the deposition on a steno machine or computer. After the oral deposition is completed the deposition is typed up and a written line by line transcript is generated and sent to the witness to sign before a notary. The penalty for not answering the questions truthfully can be criminal perjury so the process is indeed an intimidating one.
Depositions are often very dramatic, adversarial and confrontational as the attorneys spar with each other over the form of questions and make objections for the record. I have been in numerous depositions where the attorneys, myself included, lashed out at each other verbally and nearly came to blows. More than a few depositions have resulted in physical confrontations that have required state bar fines. Witnesses not used to the process can be easily intimidated and reduced to tears.
When I felt the glimmer of awakening that I desperately needed to change my ways a few years ago, I applied these techniques to myself and took my own deposition. Despite all the trappings of the material and professional success that I had achieved as an attorney running the Dallas office of a major international law firm, eight years ago I started to feel as if something was gnawing at me bit by bit from the inside. I couldn’t figure out why I had this ever-present feeling that something very important was missing from my life. The symptoms were obtuse, nonspecific and difficult to describe, but akin to a restless feeling that I wasn’t accomplishing what I was supposed to in life. I felt like a runner in a road race who had exhausted his wind and hit what they call the "wall;" an imaginary wall of pain that makes us gasp for breath and leaves finishing the race in doubt. A cavern of emptiness had opened inside me.
So I set out. I thought to myself "you’re an attorney skilled at the art of interrogation to get at the facts of your cases, so why not use these methods on yourself to discover the root of what’s making you so unhappy." And that’s what I did. I used the questioning approach of my legal training to determine what had gone wrong and try to fix it. This method is named after the Greek philosopher Socrates, who initiated a question and answer method of teaching as a means of achieving self-knowledge. In fact, his goal for his students was "know thyself." Like a surgeon with a scalpel, I dissected my life layer-by-layer to get at the source of the problem. Through this process of self-interrogation I discovered the source of these feelings.
I had taken literally thousands of depositions, but not one of myself. One afternoon I took off from the office early, went home, told my wife Debbie not to disturb me, closed the door to my study, took out a few sheets of paper and took my own deposition. Before I started, I promised myself that I had to be completely honest or the deposition wouldn’t work. I needed spontaneous, raw, gut level responses that rang of truth, not thought out, rationalized excuses. I had worn my mask long enough; it was time to take it off and see who I really was.
I wrote out an oath similar to the one a witness takes on the stand with the right hand on the Bible: "I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth." The deposition involved five separate steps:
(1) creating a narrative of my life similar to a short autobiography,
(2) posing a series of basic but broad sweeping questions that I needed answers to;
(3) reflection on the first two steps and repeating step two with more direct and pointed follow up questions akin to a cross examination designed to dig deeper still and gain more insight, meaning and understanding than the first go around;
(4) reflecting further on the second set of answers and a comparison of the first and second sets of answers; and
(5) authenticating the process by having Debbie review my answers to insure that I had been honest and hadn’t been wearing my mask throughout the process.
I did not rush through these exercises; I took my time and went straight through the entire series. When I had finished the first four parts, I sat alone in the darkness and reflected on the scribbled answers on the pages.
I questioned everything, my values, spiritual beliefs, priorities, personal relationships, work and most importantly, myself. As a result of this self - interrogation, I discovered that I was living largely externally, attached to and trapped in my lower self and that pursuit of this external show was making me miserable.
It was both a very enlightening and painful experience. On the scribbled pages before me was my entire life, a mixed bag at best of good intentions, false hopes and dreams, at times questionable behavior, moral ambiguity, and material success and excess. I relived the good things I had accomplished as well as the misdeeds, the helpful and hurtful acts to others, the pleasure I had given others as well as the pain.
It was an emotional tug of war as I alternated between joyful memories of the good I had accomplished and painful memories of the hurt I had inflicted on others. My virtues and strengths collided head on with my faults and weaknesses. I felt ashamed for hurting those that I had loved and those that I had barely known. I realized I had drifted far off course and lost my way. Suddenly, the tears of a lifetime flowed freely as I reflected on both the positive and negative aspects of my life.
This deposition was as honest an assessment of who I was as I had ever attempted. I learned that the root cause of my unhappiness was that I had had placed my ladder, my measure of success, against the wrong wall of materialism. I had been living essentially an externally based life at the expense of my family and loved ones. I had sunk into a deep personal rut, bordering on spiritual bankruptcy. Years of practicing law with a focus on success at all costs had come at a high price.
I realized that my ego had been in firm control and was directing essentially everything that I did. I had relentlessly pursued success in the power game and relished my hard-earned reputation at the time but in my predicament I felt ashamed, empty and unfulfilled.
I had focused exclusively on the outward measures of success through my legal career and pursuit of material wealth. As I explored my personal relationships, past and present, I realized my ego, and not my heart, had dominated them as well. I have heard it said, "happiness is something we have to think about when we have the luxury of abundance."Well, I had the abundance but not the happiness. It was obvious that the pursuit of things worldly or externally had failed to satisfy and that I had to look elsewhere to find happiness. As an old Chinese proverb says: "If you do not find the truth within, where are you going to go to find it?"
The deposition, I thought, was the perfect tool for self-discovery. I thought if it could help me discover the source of my misery and lead me to my own truth the perhaps it could help others. The result of this exercise was the book Showing Up! where my co-author, Michala Perreault, and I have fine-tuned the deposition and other practical tools into a three step process for self-discovery and finding your own truth.
Stratton Horres, co-authored with Michala Perreault, Showing Up: An Action Plan for Personal Growth & Following Your Bliss.
Based on their own experiences grounded in a love of ancient wisdom, Stratton Horres and Michala Perreault have codified a program of healing and self-transformation that expands the mind, enlivens the body and feeds the soul. He is also the author of a new book I Am You Are Me.
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